William Van Cleave, a Pentagon advisor during the Reagan administration and an associate of a number of militarist policy groups, is the founder and former chair of the Department of Defense and Strategic Studies (DSS) at Missouri State University, a bastion of veteran conservative policy elites. Prior to this, he was a professor of international relations for 20 years at the University of Southern California and a research fellow at the Hoover Institute.
Van Cleave has also been a member of the Committee on the Present Danger (CPD), a Cold War-era pressure group that was revived after the 9/11 attacks by a prominent group of neoconservatives and other foreign policy hawks to push for an expansive "war on terror." He is quoted on the CPD website, saying: "Islamic terrorism is an unconditional and existential threat not only to America and Israel, but also to Judeo-Christian culture. We have no choice but to recognize that war has been thrust upon us, and that principles of warfare apply. Only by denying success to this threat—by a combination of anticipatory defensive and offensive measures—can we defeat it."
According to Van Cleave's bio on the DSS website, "[E]arlier in his career, he was a member of the first American delegation to the SALT talks, and the 'B Team' on national intelligence. He served as Director of the Defense Department transition from the Carter to the Reagan Administrations, and has testified before Congress on every major U.S.-U.S.S.R. arms control treaty since SALT I in 1972."
Van Cleave is a longtime advocate of increased military spending and a more aggressive defense policy, including support for military hardliners in Israel, a more flexible nuclear weapons strategy, the deployment of a comprehensive missile, and withdrawal from arms control treaties.
In December 2010, Van Cleave was one of 32 signatories to an "Open Letter to the U.S. Senate on the New START Treaty." It argued that the treaty "is not consistent with the national security interests of the United States," and that the "Senate should reject this accord and begin instead a long-overdue and vitally needed process of modernization of the nuclear stockpile and refurbishment of the weapons complex that supports it." Other signatories included numerous Center for Security Policy (CSP) advisors like Fred Ikle, former director of the U.S. Arms Control and Disarmament Agency; Henry Cooper, former director of the Strategic Defense Initiative of the Department of Defense; and Frank J. Gaffney, founder of CSP and former assistant secretary of defense for international security policy.
In the 1970s, Van Cleave was a leading figure among a group of Cold Warriors who opposed détente with the Soviet Union and were critical of official U.S. threat assessments of Soviet military strength and ambitions. Van Cleave was a member of the infamous Team B Strategic Objectives Panel, an independent threat assessment committee authorized by George H.W. Bush, then CIA director in the Ford administration. Other team members included Richard Pipes (father of Daniel Pipes, director of the Middle East Forum) and Gen. Daniel Graham, whose "High Frontier" missile defense proposal foreshadowed President Ronald Reagan's Strategic Defense Initiative, or "Star Wars." The team's advisory panel included Paul Wolfowitz, Paul Nitze, and Seymour Weiss—all close associates of Albert Wohlstetter, the influential defense scholar whose articles on purported U.S. vulnerability to Soviet attack in the 1970s provided much of the intellectual thrust for the campaign to overturn détente. Van Cleave was also an executive member of the 1970s-era Committee on the Present Danger (CPD), a political pressure group that shared the alarmist threat assessments of Team B, many of whose members went on to serve under President Reagan.
At Missouri State University, Van Cleave has been part of a circle of like-minded hawks, many of whom were part of the 1970s-era CPD and who later championed an aggressive war on terror in the wake of the 9/11 attacks. Faculty members have included: J.D. Crouch, former George W. Bush administration deputy national security advisor; Keith Payne, founder of the hawkish strategic affairs think tank National Institute for Public Policy (NIPP) and former chair of the Bush administration's Deterrence Concepts Advisory Panel; Henry Cooper, a former head of the Strategic Defense Initiative and founder of the pro-missile defense group High Frontier; William Graham, a former Reagan administration advisor whose record includes membership on Donald Rumsfeld's Commission on the Ballistic Missile Threat to the United States and executive of various defense contractors, including R&D Associates and Jaycor; Charles Kupperman, a former Boeing and Lockheed executive and director of Empower America; Ilan Berman, president of the hawkish American Foreign Policy Council and a member of the neoconservative-led CPD; and Robert Joseph, NIPP senior scholar and former undersecretary of state for arms control and international security.
Van Cleave has been associated with an array of rightist think tanks and advocacy groups, including NIPP, CSP, the Hoover Institution, as well as the Israel-based Ariel Center and Institute for Advanced Strategic and Political Studies (IASPS), both of which have been associated with the Likud Party in Israel. IASPS 1996 publication, "A Clean Break: A New Strategy for Securing the Realm," appeared to prefigured the Mideast policies of many George W. Bush administration hawks, in particular its recommendation that Israel scrap the peace process in favor of a hardline posture that included attacking states like Syria and Iraq.
Van Cleave was a team member of a group that authored a NIPP strategy document titled "Rationale and Requirements for U.S. Nuclear Forces and Arms Control," which some have argued served as a blueprint for George W. Bush's Nuclear Posture Review (see William D. Hartung, About Face: The Role of the Arms Lobby In the Bush Administration's Radical Reversal of Two Decades of U.S. Nuclear Policy).
In addition, according to his biography, Van Cleave has "worked in various capacities which include: Defense and Strategic Analyst, Strategic Studies Center, Stanford Research Institute, Stanford University; Faculty, University of Southern California (Full Professor from 1976); Consultant to Office of Secretary of Defense, U.S. Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, the Department of Energy, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, Los Alamos Scientific Laboratory, the U.S. Army, and the U.S. Air Force; Resident consultant to the RAND Corporation and to the Assistant to the Secretary of Defense, Atomic Energy; Chairman, Strategic Alternatives Team; Visiting Professor National Security Affairs, U.S. Naval Postgraduate School; Member Executive Panel, Board of Directors, Committee on the Present Danger, Washington, D.C.; Visiting Professor National Security Affairs, U.S. Army Advanced Russian Institute, Garmisch, Germany. Most recently, Dr. Van Cleave co-chaired The Independent Working Group on Missile Defense, the Space Relationship, and the Twenty-First Century."